Why do some women suffer more from hot flushes during menopause?

Personality traits could be a reason why some women are more bothered by menopause symptoms than others.

Menopause is a period of hormone change signifying the end of reproduction and is often viewed disparagingly. Many women internalise negative views of menopause and suffer as a consequence.

A negative attitude towards menopause is related to reporting more symptoms: the most frequent being hot flushes, night sweats and depressive feelings, which interfere with daily life for some women, but not all.

Lydia Brown and a team from the University of Melbourne in Australia wanted to see whether certain personality traits, such as self-compassion, being kind to ourself when we feel inadequate, a failure or when we are suffering, explained why some women struggled more with symptoms than others.

Brown interviewed 206 women aged 40-60 experiencing hot flushes and night sweats. The women were quizzed about the phase of menopause, frequency of symptoms, the degree symptoms interfered in daily life, self-compassion level, and depressive symptoms.

The results published in the Journal Maturitas found an average of four hot flushes and night sweats reported per day. However, regardless of frequency, the women scoring high on self-compassion experienced less daily interference from hot flushes and night sweats and had fewer depressive symptoms.

“Those women low in self-compassion may reinforce difficulties related to their symptoms through self-criticism (e.g. I am stupied for feeling this way’), a sense of isolation (e.g. ‘I am the only one suffering with hot flushes’) and over identification (e.g. ‘these symptoms define who I am’)”, wrote the authors.

In other words, self-compassion reduces negative self-talk and frustration that can accompany menopausal symptoms. The more self-compassionate women were less critical and kinder to themselves when they had hot flushes which meant they felt less depressed or anxious.

Kristen Neff, one of the world’s leading experts on self-compassion, has a website with more information, research, activities to cutivate self-compassion, and a questionnaire to determine levels of self-compassion.

References

Ayers B, Forshaw M, Hunter MS. The impact of attitudes towards the menopause on women’s symptom experience: a systematic review. Maturitas. 2010 Jan;65(1):28-36. doi: 10.1016/j.maturitas.2009.10.016. Epub 2009 Dec 1. PMID: 19954900.

Brown L, Bryant C, Brown VM, Bei B, Judd FK. Self-compassion weakens the association between hot flushes and night sweats and daily life functioning and depression. Maturitas. 2014 Aug;78(4):298-303. doi: 10.1016/j.maturitas.2014.05.012. Epub 2014 May 29. PMID: 24931303

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